Vietnamese Priest Says Religious Freedom Is Elusive

Rights on Paper, But Not in Practice

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HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, FEB. 3, 2004 ( The Vietnamese government relies on persecution, imprisonment and the death penalty to silence dissidents even though it officially recognizes freedom of religion, says a Redemptorist priest.

Father Chan Tin, an 83-year-old Vietnamese, has issued a report on the status of freedom of religious and human rights in his country. The text, entitled “A Reflection on the Religious Status of the Catholic Church in Vietnam,” was to be presented to the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, which visited Vietnam last month.

The AsiaNews agency reported that Father Chan referred to the underhanded policies of the Vietnamese government. Even those sentenced to death have no right to a fair trial or a lawyer, the priest reportedly said.

In 2003 alone, 100 death sentences were issued. In recent years, oppression has extended to the use of the Internet. Vietnam continues to arrest Web surfers on charges of spying or spreading anti-government criticism over the Internet.

In February 2002, Le Chi, a young computer science teacher, was sentenced to four years in prison for sending an e-mail abroad from an Internet cafe. Le is now ailing, AsiaNews said.

The Vietnamese Constitution officially guarantees religious of freedom. But Father Chan in his report exposed in detail the strategy employed by the government to repress and persecute religion in general, particularly groups within the Catholic Church.

Bishops have been forced to ask for state approval for the nomination, formation and posting of priests to churches and parishes. Seminarians have been obliged to study Marxist-Leninist philosophy.

In 2003, persecution against the ethnic minority Christians in mountainous areas, the Montagnards, intensified. Christians in the country’s northwest provinces have also been persecuted. Last October, four members of ethnic minorities groups were sentenced to 13 years in prison for protesting against the government.

Father Chan also noted that Church property is often confiscated, for example, the Benedictine monastery of Thien An and the La Vang Shrine in Hue.

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